11:44 PM CDT on Tuesday, September 15, 2009

By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER / The Dallas Morning News

Cheeseheads and fans of America’s Team are longtime football rivals, but they will share one thing this season: Few fans in the NFL have as hard a time getting to the stadium.

Only frostbitten fans at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., are left with as few transportation options as the 100,000-plus fans who will pack the newest, fanciest and priciest stadium in the NFL when the Cowboys face the New York Giants on Sunday.

If you live in Dallas – home of the one of the most aggressively expanding light-rail lines in North America – and were hoping to catch a ride on the train to the game, you might as well be living in Green Bay.
The Cowboys and Packers are not alone in lacking light-rail service to their stadiums, though many teams have metro stops just outside their gates.

But even Indianapolis, Buffalo and Phoenix – three cities far more famous for football than for transit options – run regular bus lines right past their stadiums and offer easily available shuttles to the games. Such options don’t exist in Arlington and Green Bay.

Come Sunday, fans here will be confronted with a dizzying array of options once they arrive at Cowboys Stadium – beginning with whether to pay big bucks for a seat or spend just $29 for an all-day tailgate in the Party Zone.

But getting there won’t be easy. To reach Arlington, America’s largest city without a single bus line or passenger rail line, they can drive through some of the most heavily congested and construction-snarled roads in the region, or they can take a cab or hire a limousine service.

“Unfortunately, the construction isn’t going to be finished until next year,” said Mayor Robert Cluck, who has been championing the Cowboys’ relocation to Arlington for most of the past decade.
“So far, it’s not been too terrible of a pain,” he said, noting that traffic has flowed more quickly in and out of the stadium during pre-season events than many had predicted.

When you get there, you’ll pay through your facemask to park. Most team-owned parking lots will run $75, and that still leaves patrons with a hike.

And while Jones’ new stadium has nearly every other amenity for his team’s wealthiest fans, there is no heliport on site. And even if there was, not even a Texas millionaire willing to pay thousands to sit in a luxury suite would be likely to hire a helicopter for the trip in from Dallas.
The only transit solution for the entire stadium will be shuttle buses operated by Fort Worth’s transit agency, which will ferry folks from a park-and-ride lot in downtown Fort Worth beginning two hours before kickoff at each home game. Rides will be $5 per person, cash only, and another $5 per vehicle to park there.  Another option is to hire a Dallas limousine to take you to the game.

Joan Hunter, spokeswoman for The T, said the lot will hold 350 vehicles and the agency plans to shuttle up to 1,000 fans to the game and back.

Lack of options

The lack of transit options in Arlington, population 365,000, is deliberate – and comes despite the best efforts of city leaders and regional planners.

Voters in the past three decades have rejected three initiatives that would have dedicated sales taxes to transit, including twice since 2002.
“They don’t want it,” said former Arlington Mayor Elzie Odom, who retired as mayor in 2003. “It doesn’t do any good to argue. We have done that three times. The residents who bother to go to the polls just won’t have it.”

Voters did approve the new stadium, which cost $1.1 billion and was paid for in part by a half-cent sales tax increase. Even the new stadium, and the traffic troubles that come with it, haven’t persuaded voters to think again about transit, he said.

“In the last two elections, I have heard over and over, “We don’t want those kinds of people.’ People say they just want to be let alone.”
Cluck said he has often heard residents opposed to transit cite worries about race or class as their reasons for voting no. But more often, he said, the complaints center on residents’ predictions that a transit system Arlington could afford would involve buses – and big empty ones at that.

“It’s not a good thing that we don’t have any type of public transportation in Arlington,” said Cluck, who has championed transit since becoming mayor in 2003. The most recent failure was regional in scope: Arlington officials, including Cluck, had been big supporters of the North Texas push to persuade the Texas Legislature this year to support a local-option gas tax that would have paid for suburban rail service.

That effort failed, after splits among local lawmakers helped make already long odds impossible to overcome. “But we’re going to go back and try again,” Cluck said.

Making do

The lack of transit never gave the Cowboys pause, however.
“We were very clear that there was no transit, and voters had voted it down three times,” Cluck said.

Team spokesman Brett Daniels confirmed that Tuesday.
“We have always worked on all of our traffic plans with the assumption that there would be no transit,” Daniels said. “But with our lots, and the parking spots from the Rangers, and with communicating with fans to ride together as often as possible, I think we’ve adapted fairly well.”
He said the team controls about 12,000 spots, not counting lots on loan from the Rangers. All told, he said they expect about 30,000 vehicles on Sunday.

Cluck said getting in and out of the stadium isn’t as difficult for motorists as it seems, despite obviously heavy traffic.

“We’ve already had some events that drew a lot of people,” Cluck said, noting a recent soccer match that brought more than 82,000 fans to the stadium. “That’s close to capacity, and getting in and out of the stadium wasn’t too bad. There are 14 ways to get in and out, compared to just four ways at Texas Stadium. That’s really helped.”

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